Thank you for being a friend

Chris Azzopardi
By | 2008-07-31T09:00:00-04:00 July 31st, 2008|Entertainment|

It almost seems too predictable to say I came out to my mom while “The Golden Girls” played on her bedroom television. But I sure did. And how fitting it was, considering the long-running show that was a night ritual between her and I during its seven-year run became a gay-guy vacuum.
Had I been ‘fessing to Sophia Petrillo, the acidic-tongued matriarch figure on the show about four over-the-hill ladies, I can only imagine her salty poke and “duh!” eye roll. Now that Estelle Getty, the luminary actress who played her and died last week (July 22) at the age of 84, perhaps it’s easier to envision the Sicilian sauce-making ma saying and doing such; she lives on as Sophia, who touched our hearts, and wiggled our funny bones – and on those days when I needed a pick-me-up, she, Blanche, Rose and Dorothy were just a few remote-control clicks away.
Born Estelle Scher in New York City on July 25, 1923, Getty launched her career in the Yiddish theater. After concentrating on raising a family and marrying Arthur Gettleman, she returned to acting in her first screen appearance in 1978’s “Team-Mates,” followed by minimal roles in “Tootsie” and “Mask,” playing Cher’s mother.
Her career blossomed late with her 1982 Broadway stint as Harvey Fierstein’s interfering mother in the play “Torch Song Trilogy,” which helped score her the role of Sophia on “The Golden Girls.” Between 1986 and 1992, Getty garnered seven consecutive Supporting Actress Emmy nods (and one win), along with a trio of Golden Globe nominations, including a win for Leading Role in a Comedy Series in ’86. Following the hit sitcom, she reprised her role on spin-off shows, including ill-fated “The Golden Palace” and “Empty Nest.”
Outside of acting, Getty was a tireless supporter of gay rights and active in fundraising for AIDS research, which (along with “Torch Song Trilogy”) catapulted her into gay icon status – and helped solidify “The Golden Girls” as a queer classic. Her real-life activism extended into her role on “Golden Girls,” where Sophia was notoriously accepting of the gay community, including her cross-dressing son Phil and daughter Dorothy’s openly-gay best friend Jean. She also had an uncanny ability for sniffing out the poofs.
What audiences ate up quicker than the women devoured their midnight cheesecake were the snappy zingers the diminutive Getty, who was just under five feet tall, fed the other three. When Rue McClanahan’s sexaholic character Blanche complained that her life was an open book, Sophia quipped, “Your life’s an open blouse.” The show, with its plucky female characters’ casual sexuality talk or their single lives, was a launching pad for later gay-fave programs like “Sex and the City.”
Fittingly, as Sophia inspired the three gals she shared a cute Miami home with on “Golden Girls,” Getty did the same for the future of female-led shows until she retired early in the millennium, citing her reason as Parkinson’s disease – which was later revealed to be dementia. When she passed last week, she was surrounded by family in her Los Angeles home.
Reruns, and DVD boxed-sets, will forever be our link to a bona fide classic that could literally turn a frown upside down. And make me want to crawl in my mom’s bed as a wee one and nuzzle against her. Oh, and yield a craving for a Texas-sized slice of cheesecake. As her “Golden Girls” co-stars responded to Getty’s death, Betty White, who played Rose, said to the Associated Press, “The only comfort at this moment is that although Estelle has moved on, Sophia will always be with us.”
And for that, and Getty’s own dedication to us gays, the show’s sunny theme never seemed more appropriate: Thank you, Estelle Getty, for being a friend.

About the Author:

Chris Azzopardi
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.